It seems like Richard Madden has an issue with trains. Citadel’s opening sequence begins almost exactly the same way as the actor’s BBC hit show Bodyguard did: there’s a bomb about to go off on a train that he has to stop. But while Bodyguard’s opening was nerve-shredding, Citadel’s approach is devoid of almost any tension.
We begin in media res with Citadel agents Mason Kane (Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) walking through an Italian train as their handler (played by none other than Stanley Tucci) talks them through their mission, should they choose to accept it. It all seems pretty simple: find the guy with the briefcase full of explosives and save the passengers. But something major goes wrong that leaves their whole agency in danger.
The issue with this opener lies in its tonal mismatch. The David Weil-created drama veers away from grittier ones like the aforementioned Bodyguard and leans much more into the James Bond and Mission: Impossible school of spy-fare. It’s full of soft-focus and pastel colors, funky gadgets, and witty dialogue.
This makes it look gorgeous, sure, but it feels incongruous with the gravity of the set-up as it unfolds – which it turns out, is pivotal to the premise of the whole show. We’ll side-step major spoiler territory here but in the wake of this mission, the whole Citadel agency falls and its agents have their memories wiped.
When the show cuts to eight years later, it all falls a bit cold too. We pick up with our former agents in their new lives as their enemy – a powerful crime syndicate called Manticore led by Lesley Manville – grows. To defeat them, they’re told they’ll have to confront their past and regain their memories.
While it’s an intriguing set-up, we’re never given the chance to get into the flow of the story as the narrative crisscrosses between different scenes frequently. The fact these are often marked with hard transitions (there’s an awful lot of cutting to black) doesn’t help either. The flip-flopping between places and tones also leads to some very odd sequences and stilted dialogue. One particularly strange moment sees Mason breaking into the Manticore headquarters to steal a very important case set to a jaunty jazz soundtrack.
However, if you can endure these early hiccups, the series picks up considerably as Chopra Jonas’ Nadia becomes more involved in the plot. Her character’s story is immediately a lot more fascinating than Mason’s (and it feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface with it). Paired with some stellar action sequences, it all means that by the third episode, Citadel becomes captivating.
This is best exemplified by a stunning flashback sequence set in the snowy mountains, which feels plucked right out of The Spy Who Loved Me's classic cold open. It’s easy to see why reports have suggested Citadel is the second most expensive series ever created as Madden skis through the mountains in a sleek action set piece. But while it may feel like a Bond audition for the Game of Thrones star, it’s really one for Chopra Jonas.
Her easy charisma oozes Bond-like energy too, which only sizzles more as her dynamic with Madden’s Mason takes center stage. What started off as slightly stilted chemistry builds throughout the first three episodes into something quite electric. So, as the complex nature of their past relationship rears its head, Citadel really kicks into gear and leaves you wanting more.
While the Russo Brothers-produced show takes a while to find its feet, it’s got all the makings of an enjoyable spy drama. Twists and turns are no doubt on their way, and the Amazon budget behind it means it looks great. Tolerate the early road bumps and Citadel will scratch that Bond itch, and – hopefully – take it somewhere refreshing.
Amazon Prime Video made three episodes available for review. Episode 1 and 2 arrive on April 28, with new episodes following weekly on Fridays.
For what else to stream, check out our guide to the best Amazon shows.